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Fight Valiantly! This Happy Contention

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 18 Apr 2019

As we conclude our Lent series on fighting valiantly as Christians, Lee Gatiss looks at the joy of faithful service. The last of our Lent video podcasts is now available on our YouTube channel.

Matthew Hole (d. 1730) was a presbyter in the Church of England during the turbulent times of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In his commentary on the lectionary readings in the Book of Common Prayer, he urges every faithful Christian to be involved in contending for the faith. He writes:

“Let us all engage in this happy contention to preserve the unity and purity of the christian faith, against all sin and error. There are some that would undermine the faith by schisms and divisions, and others that would corrupt it by errors and heresies; both which are great opposers of Christ’s doctrine, and great obstructers of our salvation.”

He then urges us to contend against dividers and sectaries (those who split the church into smaller and smaller sects), by “standing fast in one spirit” (Philippians 1:27); against those who would “blend or corrupt” the gospel, perverting the faith of many; against those who would subvert and undermine the faith or “make it a tool to serve their other secular ends and designs.” But his parting word is a daily challenge for us all: we must contend for the faith, he says, by “living answerable to it, against all loose and profane professors of it, who are its greatest enemies, and do it the most mischief.”

All this talk of struggling and straining could wear us down and turn us off. But as Ringwald concludes at the end of his study of some of the Greek words for contending, “the agōn with all its sufferings brings joy to the Christian, the joy of the team which is indebted to its captain for the victory.” The joy we can have in the midst of our contending is not the testosterone high of the alpha male or alpha female who relishes a contest, but the happy contentment that comes from knowing Jesus has conquered our true spiritual enemies by his cross and resurrection. He will build his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Sin and death and hell will not have the final word for all those who repent and believe the good news of the “the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). We have truly amazing news to share, which everyone needs to hear and rejoice in.

Placed in this context, all our struggles take on a new perspective. There is freedom and release from pressure when we realise that the ultimate prize does not depend on our adrenaline-fuelled and anxious efforts, but is guaranteed by his success. This is no guilt-inducing call, “It all depends on us!” Rather, it is an invitation to join in the battle together, play your part, share in Christ’s sufferings, and partake of his rewards. We look to our king and know “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow”, as we engage in his business for the glory of God and the good of his world.

So I pray that we would keep the faith in our daily walk with Jesus, as well as contending for it in every way. Because contending is the vital spiritual discipline of applying and promoting the gospel lovingly in a context of opposition, which will continue until the King returns on the great and terrible day of judgment. On that day, we long to hear his words: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). May anticipation of that joy be your strength in the battle.

Let’s conclude our studies in the biblical doctrine of contending, with a prayer — since prayer itself is a form of contending for the faith:

Almighty God,
who gives victory to his faithful people
not by might, nor by power, but by your Holy Spirit:
Grant in your mercy that we may not be ashamed
to confess the faith of Christ crucified,
and to fight valiantly against sin, the world, and the devil
contending for the gospel as his faithful soldiers and servants
until the end of our lives;
for we ask in the name of Jesus,
who conquered the powers of darkness and gave himself up
to rescue us from this present evil age.
Amen.

FINALLY…

Will you now begin or join a conversation in your church and local area about the issues raised in this series, and how we can all work hard to follow the Bible’s teaching on this? How will you play your part in applying and promoting the gospel lovingly in a context of opposition today?

If you’d like to know more about how to do that, do be in touch with us at Church Society. None of these things are easy — let’s try and do them together!

Links to all the 2019 Lent blogposts and videos are here.

Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society and the editor of Gospel Flourishing in a Time of Confusion, the latest book from Church Society.

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